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MEXICO: Mexican government promotes medical tourism

The Mexican federal government’s Tourism Secretariat has a new initiative to rejuvenate medical tourism in the country, expecting 650,000 visitors,

who will spend $US50 million by 2020.

Secretary of tourism Rodolfo Elizondo explained that the project sought to enlist all private hospitals of international status and create a specific offer that will be primarily promoted within Hispanic communities in Texas and California. Most of this community has no health insurance; so several thousand people living over the border could be interested in the services that Mexico has to offer.

Ricardo Haneine, a private consultant who helped the government develop this project, explained that in the first five years of the programme, elective services such as cosmetic surgery, ophthalmology and odontology, as well as basic cardiology and chemotherapy treatments, would be offered. From the sixth year on, more specialized services will be provided in order to attract a higher number of people looking for medical treatment.

40 hospitals have been listed as quality hospitals by national and international standards, eight of which are already certified by JCI. The federal government is currently looking for an agreement with international institutions to enable hospitals in Mexico to be certified nationally and internationally at the same time. The Tourism Secretariat intends to integrate another 50 hospitals into its programme in the next ten years, projecting to invest US$1025 million.

The Secretary of Tourism stated that although a few hospitals already welcome foreigners and do their own promotion by themselves, it is the first time that the government has got behind them with plans for a more integrated and targeted marketing campaign.

Mexico’s Health Ministry plans to build up the country’s medical tourism infrastructure during the next two years. The initiative includes training a group of bilingual Spanish-English nurses, a pilot programme is being organized.

Very popular with Americans are low cost dental procedures in the border towns. Clinics estimate that 40 percent of their patients are foreigners during the tourist high season that spans the months from October to March. Figures would be higher if the epidemic of drug and gang related violence in some border towns could be eradicated.

Health tourism is also a main priority for the new Governor of Sonora as Sonora is very close to large populations in Arizona and California, and Hospital CIMA Hermosillo in Hermosillo sees American medical tourists as a lucrative opportunity. Regional initiatives to promote medical tourism are underway in the northern border states of Chihuahua, Baja California and Nuevo Leon.

What the government has yet to do to encourage the recovery of the tourism industry after the recession of 2009 is amend and update laws on tourism as a matter of urgency and ensure that the Tourism Secretariat both continues to exist and is supplied with the funds it needs to make the project work. The plan can be seen as a late attempt by the organisation to survive, as late last year the government announced plans to close it and merge it into a new department of tourism and trade .The future is still uncertain as many politicians oppose the merger, so it is still la matter of discussion, lobbying and political maneuvering. Mexican Health Minister Jose Angel Cordova Villalobos wants greater coordination at the federal level. Ultimately, whether or not federal assistance actually happens, is dependent on national and local politicians working together, and putting their individual ambitions and party politics aside- but as we have seen in the US over health reform, this rarely happens.

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